barrick gold, canada
“The majority of Wiradjuri people are against the proposed gold mine at Lake Cowal. This is part of the sacred heartland of the Wiradjuri nation. We don’t want to see our cultural heritage destroyed, or the land and waters poisoned by the cyanide used to extract gold. The place should be left as it is. But Barrick doesn’t care about any of this. They just want to mine the gold under the lake and take the profits out of Australia. The mine’s only got a possible 13-year life, but the lake is millions of years old. We’ve got plenty of gold mines in Australia. We don’t need this one.” Wiradjuri Traditional Owner Neville Williams.
Lake Cowal, the largest inland body of water in Australia’s state of New South Wales when full, is no ordinary place. In addition to being home to 170 species of waterfowl, it is also an important sacred region for the Aboriginal Wiradjuri traditional owners and listed as a wetland of national importance.
Nonetheless, Canadian miner Barrick Gold intends to develop a cyanide leaching gold mine at the edge of Lake Cowal. The mine will consist of a huge pit, one kilometre long by 825 metres wide and 325 metres deep, below the lake’s high water level. If all goes according to plan, 128 million tons of ore will be excavated.
Cyanide leaks and spills are commonplace in the industry, as are accidents that wipe out entire river systems and devastate birds and other wildlife. A spill containing cyanide or arsenic could devastate the entire Lake Cowal ecosystem.
In their greed for gold, Barrick is overriding the deep concerns and opposition of Wiradjuri traditional owners, many of whom oppose the project. In March 2002, Wiradjuri traditional owner Neville Williams took Barrick to court, claiming that the company’s current exploration is desecrating Lake Cowal and the destruction and removal of cultural objects and artefacts is illegal. The case resulted in an injunction restraining the company from further exploration drilling at the site. Furthermore, recent native title claims over the proposed mine area have delayed the issuing of a mining lease.
Many threatened and vulnerable animals, birds, fish and plant species can be found in the Lake Cowal area, including the Swift Parrot, the Regent Honeyeater, the Macquarie Perch, the Superb Parrot, the Greater Long-eared Bat and the Southern Bellfrog. Twelve species of migratory bird protected under international agreements between Australia, China and Japan also frequent Lake Cowal.
The Coalition to Protect Lake Cowal, which includes Friends of the Earth Australia, is supporting Wiradjuri traditional custodians in their efforts to keep Lake Cowal’s gold underground.